By Kevin Parker, NJEA Communications Consultant
Adult conversations around diversity took a pause to hear children’s perspectives at a Feb. 13 event in Salem County. Students from across Salem County presented, in art and words, their viewpoints on diversity—what it means to them, what it looks like and why it’s important.
The Salem County Council of Education Associations (SCCEA) hosted a dinner for the contestants, their families and NJEA members at JG Cook’s Riverview Inn in Pennsville. As everyone enjoyed a fireside dinner while the sun set over the Delaware River, SCCEA Vice President Carmen Porter announced the contest winners: Megan Morris for her art and Raegan Wilson for her writing. Megan’s artwork included a series of five connected pieces, each attached to a different statement about diversity. In her essay, Raegan described how diversity looks in the classroom, the forms it can take outside of the classroom, and its significance to her personally.
Selecting the winners, Carmen admits, was extremely difficult.
“I knew they were going to be great, but I was surprised to see how amazing and different each piece was,” Porter said. “It made our decision very hard when it came to picking the winners.”
The event was Porter’s brainchild.
“Diversity is one of the main topics that teachers discuss,” Porter said. “We discuss it because we understand our classrooms consist of students with many differences. I wanted to see how the students saw diversity. I thought if I could have a conversation with students about diversity, maybe the students would have more of a respect for the differences they saw in their classrooms.”
Porter, who is also the SCCEA Pride chair, first met with the students and their parents to review contest rules. While she talked to them about the importance of diversity, she engaged them in conversation, asking them to explain what they thought diversity was. Students were given three options to explore the topic of diversity and showcase their artistic expression: a poem, a longer written piece or a piece of art.
“As county president, I have to say that when Carmen first brought this idea to me, I thought immediately it was one of the best things I’d ever heard,” recounted SCCEA President Sue Maniglia in her speech. “Diversity has become a really big deal with us because it encompasses everyone—not just our staff, but our students as well. And we need to embrace that.”